I've lost count the amount of times I have seen Robert Fuest's two Phibes films, both on the big and small screens, or the many occasions where I have wept over bad prints, terrible transfers or the travesty that was in hearing a synth score replacing Price singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the sequel. So, in this age of all things shiny and HD, I'm pretty stoked with Arrow's The Complete Dr Phibes Blu-ray box-set, which I spent last weekend devouring. Phibes Phans take note, this release is a must-have. Here' s my take on this covetable collection.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of The Abominable Dr. Phibes. I’m no techie, but I found this to be a massive improvement on my old VHS and DVD versions and the MGM HD version that I recorded off Sky last year (which is where this remastered HD transfer is taken from). To find out more about the transfer’s finer points, check out DVD Beaver.
• Commentary on The Abominable Dr Phibes with director Robert Fuest, moderated by Marcus Hearn. Besides the two super HD transfers, this is the main reason to get your hands on Arrow’s box set. Fuest left this mortal coil, aged 84, in 2012, so this is especially poignant. While the director does sound frail and struggles with his memory, he provides some hugely entertaining anecdotal detail about the shoot and the film’s origins. He also gives an intimate account of working with Vincent Price (on his fine comic flair), Joseph Cotton (who was consummate in every way) and Hugh Griffith (something of a good luck charm, despite his heavy drinking). The big reveals (for me) were Fuest's dislike of Basil Kirchin’s score (he preferred library music) and that it was Brian Clemens (his cohort on TV's The Avengers) who came up with the film’s fantastic ending. Fuest also discusses the highs and lows of the sequel, Dr Phibes Rises Again, which really could have turned into another full commentary. Sadly, this is his final word on these two highlights of Fuest's remarkable career. This commentary first appeared in the first volume of Scream Factory’s Vincent Price Blu-ray collection, and deservedly won a gong at this year’s Rondo Classic Horror Awards. Historic stuff indeed!
• Commentary on The Abominable Dr Phibes by author/creator William Goldstein, moderated by his son Damon. While giving a running commentary on the film, the Goldstein’s discuss their efforts to resurrect Phibes in two new novelisations and a film project idea (head over to their Forever Phibes YouTube channel for a preview). Self promotion aside, listening to the American dad and son duo debate the colour of Vulnavia’s dress (is it burnt orange or persimmon) and waxing lyrical about England’s ‘greenbelt’ is quite amusing.
• Dr Phibes and the Gentlemen Steve Pemberton, Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith recall their memories of the two films. Shot in an audio booth with the gang squished around a table, this featurette has its moments, with the funniest description coming from Gatiss: ‘Phantom of the Opera meets Mr Potato Head’. But it comes up short in light the boys excellent Theatre of Blood audio commentary.
• Theatrical trailer. Vinnie does the voiceover on the original trailer, which looks like its been given a bit of a restoration here, and benefits from some Terry Gilliam-styled animation.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of Dr Phibes Rises Again. Again, this is another lovely transfer based on the MGM HD elements delivered by Hollywood Classics.
• Commentary on Dr Phibes Rises Again Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas returns with another ripping commentary (he also did Arrow’s Pit and the Pendulum release), mixing his own insights with little-known facts and trivia (some courtesy of the excellent Little Shoppe of Horrors Definitive Dr Phibes issue), while paying tribute to director Robert Fuest who, in the 1970s, was seen as ‘the genre’s new hope’ and a great stylist’, but who ended up disillusioned by the film business. Lucas also takes time out to give voice to Valli Kemp who took over the role of Phibes’ mute assistant Vulnavia in the sequel. Valli, a former Miss World model, hit it off straight away with Price over their mutual love of art, and ended up carving herself a career as an art teacher in Sydney. Like Lucas, she’s also one of my Facebook friends. You rock Valli!
• Daughter of Phibes Following her interview on Arrow’s Theatre of Blood Blu-ray release, Victoria Price gives another insightful look into her father’s career; this time revealing how, as teenager, she judged her dad for not being serious enough as an actor until she saw his poignant performance of Oscar Wilde in Diversions & Delights. She also pays tribute to those horror fans that continue to keep Vinnie’s legacy alive. Thanks Victoria!
• The Doctor Will See You Now It’s always a pleasure to hear film reviewer and long-time Price fan David Del Valle talk about Vinnie, and he doesn’t disappoint here, coming up with more tasty after-dinner tidbits.
• Theatrical Trailer This vintage un-restored US trailer seriously lacks Price’s mellifluous tones that you get on the Abominable Dr Phibes trailer.
The 100-page collector's booklet is packed with some great stuff for Phibes Phans old and new. Julian Upton, author of Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiosities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems, pens two excellent features, one on the history of the Phibes films, the other about American International Pictures; Beddabled! editor Martin Jones comes up with a great primer on Fuest’s life and career, Arrow regular Calum Waddell interviews former AIP ad man Milton Moritz about the company’s cinematic legacy, while music hound Jonny Trunk gives us the lowdown on the genius of composer Basil Kirchin. Two articles that originally appeared in the Little Shoppe of Horrors Dr Phibes issue are reprinted here (if you don’t have this already then you should) and there’s also an old 2005 Cinema Retro article about Caroline Munro (aka Mrs Phibes) that could have done with an update from the lady herself.